Why Lancaster - 1960's perspective.
Early students discussing why they chose Lancaster University in the 1960's.
In the 1960's the reasons students chose Lancaster differed from today. Here you can find out about why students chose Lancaster and what they thought about studying here.
Early students discussing why they chose Lancaster University in the 1960's.
If you’d like to read more accounts from students of the 1960s, have a look at the accordion below.
Mike studied Politics and graduated from Lancaster in 1968.
From 64 – 67 the University was based in a converted warehouse and church in Lancaster. There were only 2 colleges then – Bowland and Lonsdale – with Cartmel and County added in 67 – 68 when the Bailrigg site opened.
Around 80% of all students lived in Morecambe since there was available off-season accommodation and there was no Halls of Residence until the first one opened in 1969 (I think !). In 65 – 66 there were only circa 800 students so you tended to know most of them if only by sight. Most of the social life centred around Morecambe at that time and we were generally regarded as a ‘mysterious and strange species by most of the locals’. We sometimes used to go to Morecambe Pier on Friday nights to see touring 60’s bands like The Searchers, Swinging Blue Jeans etc and one of the main objectives was to circumvent the ‘punch ups’ that invariably occurred amongst the locals around midnight.
Quite a few of us managed to run cars, even if they were old bangers, so we also used to go up to the lakes at weekends and a popular pub was the Red Well which was in the countryside somewhere near Carnforth. However, the main pub was the Shakespeare (long since demolished) which was located between the Library (warehouse) and the lecture theatre (church hall) in Lancaster and run by a wiry little Irishman, who I still remember collapsing on me in tears one lunchtime when the news came of Bobby Kennedy’s assassination. 3-course 'business lunches’ in the local Chinese restaurants were popular. They cost 3s. 9d. (19p) in those days and always consisted of Cornflower soup (coloured red to be tomato, green to be pea or unadulterated to be chicken – whatever colour they always tasted the same), Curry (they often used local cats we subsequently discovered when they were prosecuted by the Police for catnapping or whatever the charges were) and Suet Pudding (with a thin spread of different colours so they could call it apple tart or jam tart etc). Certainly not at all nutritious but very filling!
The student body was fairly cosmopolitan since Admissions focused upon a character more than academic factors in their policy at that stage, as they wanted the early intake to establish the student community and all of the student events, societies and organisations. Consequently, the student body as a whole was not overwhelmingly leftist like most other Universities at that time and was more representative of the whole spectrum. We did have anti-Vietnam demonstrations etc but they were more muted and never violent as in some other Universities. We also had a number of ‘draft dodgers’ from the US, some of whom used to attend lectures and live with the student community. There was no major drug scene at the University during this period although quite a few people experimented with dope (cannabis). There was a lot of gambling, mainly cards (Poker and Brag) both in the JCR (against the rules) and in the pub or at peoples flats – which often went on all night. I knew one guy who lost his terms grant in the first week and had to work evenings in a pub to pay his rent! (We were fortunate enough to have grants in those days and we didn’t have to pay tuition fees either- maximum grant was £110 per term and the average rent was circa £3 – £4 per week). Student Societies received a grant from the University to help fund them but had to be approved and they also needed to have a member of staff as Treasurer. I founded the Equestrian Society, with a token link to a local farm with horses, but which was really a cover to hire coaches to go to the Races at Catterick, York and Liverpool since I found a ‘compliant’ Lecturer who was happy to participate.
I was one of the Rag Week organisers in 1967 and apart from events in and around Lancaster, we engineered two ‘operations’ in the south.
The first was cementing a Loo – with Lancaster University Rag Week painted on it (yes we were highly creative and original) by the fountains in Trafalgar Square (we did get a picture in one of the tabloids – The Daily Mirror, I think).
The second was Sailing Half A boat Across the Channel to France. We found a boat builder in Iver, Bucks who had invented this ‘unsinkable’ dinghy made of some kind of glass fibre compound. He sawed one in half and put a clear glass perspex cover at the sawn-off end to prevent the passengers from getting wet (the context of this stunt was Britain’s then abortive efforts to obtain membership of the European Common Market – De Gaulle kept saying ‘Non’). I won’t bore you with the various attempts but finally, we managed a ‘set up’ with either the BBC or ITV news who filmed the launching of the boat off the south coast, with Gail Dixon (the current Rag week Queen….yes we did have such absurd things then) as the crew. The sea was rather choppy so it was purely a token event to create a light news story. It was shown as the last item on the TV News one Sunday as “And Finally Yet Another British Attempt To Get Into Europe That Failed” and it was presented as a 20-second jokey news item. Did it raise any money – I can’t remember – but we had some fun doing it.
Another guy who did a Rag Week stunt on TV at that time was Chris Mountford. He was in the 64 intakes and was one of the student characters. He was a tall, good looking guy, who always seemed to have plenty of money. He drove a Jag, was a real womaniser and was really into drama. He knows someone who worked in makeup at the ATV studios in Birmingham. At that time there was a popular ITV Chat Show hosted by an amiable Irishman named Eamonn Andrews. Chris got his friend to smuggle him onto the set towards the end of a show. He just walked on to the platform and coolly said: “Hi Eamonn can I join you”. He was immediately grabbed off-camera by security and thrown out. At the end of the show, Eamonn Andrews asked if anyone knew who this intruder was but by then he had gone. However the incident got coverage in a couple of national newspapers the next day and the Producer contacted Chris and invited him to appear as Eamonn’s first official guest on the following week's show, which he duly did. Again I can’t remember if we raised any money from this either. Chris went on to try and be an actor and got a bit part in “Oh What A Lovely War which was filmed in Brighton a year or two later.”
Ian Saunders graduated from Lancaster in 1969. He became the Principal of Bowland College in 1989.
In the Beginning … was the word. And the word was “Universities”. And the Privy Council spake, saying “Let there be Lancaster”. And there was Lancaster. And there was Bowland College (but not within 6 days, not all at once).
In 1964 the first 200 (or so) Lancaster undergraduates arrived to discover their University was a hurriedly converted furniture factory in St Leonard Gate near the city centre, opposite the Grand Theatre. I came in 1965 when these pioneers had become sophisticated second-year students, who lorded it over mere freshers. We found we had joined not only Lancaster University, but also something mysteriously called Bowland College (or Lonsdale College, for those by an unlucky chance in the other half of the student body). Although from the start there were two College Syndicates to organise welfare and engage in planning the buildings at Bailrigg, for several years these Colleges were only unsubstantial names. But somehow they were names that mattered, and Bowlanders were different and stuck together while mingling with Lonsdale folk. However, there were so few students in total that everybody knew everybody else and endlessly gossiped about what they were up to, which was not much by modern standards. There were no opportunities.
All students were put in “approved lodgings”, supervised by grim puritanical landladies, mainly in seaside holiday accommodation near the Battery in Morecambe, normally vacant from October to June. University approval meant you were given a desk to work at, a hot milky drink at night, and various other things considered necessary for students. From the place allocated in my own case, it is clear that plumbing was not listed among these necessities. The toilet was two floors below my garret room and the only hot water supply was in a jug delivered to my door at 7 a.m. You could book a bath by giving 2 days notice. Heating was minimal during the day and absent overnight so that on some mornings the cold water jug had frozen over. In particular, I disliked the plastic flowers covered in dust that was everywhere in the house, even around the toilet cistern. I moved to a better place after Christmas. Experiences like that are formative. Students today are soft!
The days were spent in Lancaster. We went shopping between lectures. The biggest classes were held in a disused church, rented by the University, which later became a Centre for the Deaf, instead of the merely inattentive. The building is now the “Friary” student pub. In 1965 Lancaster was full of small shabby pubs. In most of them, students were eyed furtively and made to feel unwelcome. “Don’t sit there, love, that’s Charlie’s seat.” (And he might want it in an hour or two.) A few of these pubs are still there, almost unchanged today, and can be found by adventurous city explorers. The nearest pub to the University was the Shakespeare (now a B&B), which became a popular student hang-out, and the Tramway Hotel, even dingier, was in St Leonard Gate on the other side. Just down the road from that was a great Fish and Chip shop, where you could get a good sit-down meal. I had my first chip butty there and I can still remember the thick butter melting all over the fresh hot chips! There was also an Oxfam shop somewhere in St Leonard Gate, where I bought a 10 volume Victorian encyclopedia for 50p. It was a bargain, but remember that 50p then was roughly the cost of fish, chips, peas, buttered bread and a pot of tea for two people in the chippy, or about 5 pints of beer in the Shakespeare! Of course, our income was low too, the annual student grant being about £500.
All the University activities began to transfer from the city to the campus in 1966 and 1967, though well into the 1970’s many new departments were first housed down in St Leonard Gate, while their accommodation on campus was being built. The original bits opened up at Bailrigg were University House, Alex Square (with a bank and a few shops), stage 1 of the Library, Bowland College, and the Physics Department. A good sense of priorities shown there! At first, students shared the rooms on campus to work in (about 5 or 6 to a room). These studies were later converted into bedrooms once there were enough working spaces in the library.
From October 1967 (I think) some students got their own study bedrooms in college, but I cannot remember when that became the norm for freshers.
I do remember the occasion (but again not the date) when one student woke up after a particularly drunken evening to find himself asleep in his bed in the middle of the Bowland quadrangle. He was surrounded by all the furniture and belongings from his room, meticulously reassembled in the original pattern by his friends after they had brought him and them down the stairs from C floor!
Bowland Bar and JCR were the centres of all University life, until first Lonsdale College and gradually other Colleges were added. One of my friends among the Physics students was the first Lonsdale JCR President. Their main business for a whole year was deciding a design in linoleum tiles for their JCR floor, by setting up the competition and then arguing over entries to select the most interesting. An agreement was eventually reached. In October they came back to their newly opened college, to find that a “chessboard” tile pattern had been laid on the floor. In the Building Office, there was no remembrance that anything else had ever been considered. The pattern had been set not only for the floor but also for relations between the Building Office and the Colleges.
Many students lived on baked beans and saved their money for beer. Originally the only catering outlet on campus was the Joint Refectory between Bowland and Lonsdale. The first successful mass student action at Lancaster (in 1968?) was prompted by a new catering manager, who raised the food standards overnight soon after his arrival. Suddenly the chips were crinkle cut and meals were interesting and delicious (Chicken Maryland rather than sausages). Even the vegetables were edible. Alas, these meals were significantly more expensive than before, at nearly 20p for two courses! A general meeting of students was called by the Student Representative Council and voted overwhelmingly for less quality and lower cost. Back we went to meat pies and straight chips.
It was around this time that the more left-wing student politicians first began to talk about “the Student Union”, but that title did not become officially recognised for a very long time. (Indeed it is likely that officially the Student Union did not exist under that name until the Revised Charter and Statutes, recently approved.) Student Representative Council elected officers were given a couple of rooms in University House, but after they organised a very unruly “sit-in” protest in the Senate Chamber they were moved out of there. The “sit-in” was once a regular feature of Bailrigg political life, and normally well regulated, but after that particular one University House was fortified. The student officers were expelled to rooms in what had been part of Bowland over the shops (Robinson’s, Birkett’s, etc.), where the Union stayed until Slaidburn House was built.
Bowland College residence and student activities were governed (then as now, in practice) by a Management Committee of elected staff and students. For many years this met on Monday evenings over a hot dinner. Doubtless many really important issues were considered at these meetings, but the only one I particularly remember now is the debate we had on toilet paper supplies. Although “soft” tissue (like everybody uses now) had become common for the public, the whole University was still using the traditional thin “hard” paper. A Bowland student officer proposed that the College should change to soft tissue, which was fiercely opposed on grounds of expense by Mrs Livingston, the Domestic Bursar (the equivalent post then to College Manager). However, after a long discussion, the other Senior College Officers (including me by then) sided with the students and the motion was carried. Mrs Livingston was instructed to propose the change to the University for Bowland residences. She declared it would be impossible to implement this as all the staff and students from other buildings would come to steal our tissues for their own use. This was probably true, and the happy outcome was that from that date the whole University was supplied with soft tissue! That is probably a good point at which to stop the endless memories. Bowland, always the pioneer. In the words which end all Degree Congregations, Long may the University (and the College) Prosper!
Trevor graduated in 1967.
I was at Lancaster from when it opened – 1964-7 – and therefore didn’t experience the period in the early 70s when the greatest level of political activity took place. I did, however, later by coincidence, work with Maggie Gallagher who was president of the students union at the time.
When I applied for postgraduate study in the 70s at least one institution would not consider students – including me – from Lancaster or Essex on the basis that they must be troublemakers.
My memories of Lancaster are personal rather than institutional, and are filtered through my present experience of working in a University – I find myself remarking on differences and these tend to be in the forefront of my mind. Many of these are not necessarily peculiar to Lancaster – nobody was obsessed with league tables and the like, and the majority of students were much less instrumental in their approach to studying. One item that may be of interest was the generosity of the university – that’s how it seemed at the time, while now it just seems unbelievable. To promote the development of student social life it paid for the equipment for a student rock band, and when we moved to the new buildings myself and a couple of others (including one member of the teaching staff) were given money to buy some paintings and decorate the common room: I’ve never wandered around a gallery since saying ‘let's have that one’.
Lancaster was the one institution which offered me a place where I had not been for an interview, so the town was a bit of a surprise to me when I arrived from the south. It was rather ‘behind the times’ in lots of ways. The first experience of living in digs (in Lancaster) was interesting – our landlady was German and provided German size meals, which was good; she also more than once suggested I might like to take her daughter out, which was probably not part of the deal with the accommodation office. Induction week was good, as everyone pushed the boat out to celebrate the university’s opening – a whole week of free food, drink and social events. With only 300 students it was easy to get to know most everyone and to spend too much time doing things other than working. Some things were decidedly odd – especially wearing gowns to lectures, but that didn’t last long. I found a lot of the institution building activities a bit bewildering – or maybe I mean boring, especially when it came to interminable meetings to discuss the JCR constitution. Some were sort of interesting, such as the student-operated disciplinary processes, when I found myself defending a fellow student for being drunk in the library in front of other members of the student body (do you still do this sort of thing?). But, it was very friendly and informal – even down to when I got my results: the economics professor told me while I was in the gents and then went and stood on a table in the bar and told everyone else – he was leaving for a well-paid job with the UN in Geneva.
I did find much of the teaching excellent – perhaps a particular example being economics lecturer Tony Cramp who had just come from the Bank of England and managed to get a full turn out at 9 am on a Monday morning. He could tell us what the books said and then tell us how it really worked in practice. But, the quirky bits stand out. I found the politics people the most quirky. Philip Reynolds (later VC?) gave great lectures in the style of a Welsh orator; Gerry Fowler (later a government minister) managed to draw parallels between the Peloponnesian war and the (then) current situation in Rhodesia; and Russell Price, who I once found had stayed at his desk all night to track down the source of unacknowledged quotes in a students essay. Also – a sign of the times – a statistics lecturer (Dr Airth?) who would always put calculating machines (heavy in pre-electronic times) on the desks of female students but let the males get their own: such gallantry is probably no longer evident, and would probably be frowned upon.
There was some political activity, but I am not too familiar with what went on the main party political group – preferring the more racy events organised by the Marxist Discussion Group (led by a Nigerian guy I was in digs with who had been expelled from more countries than I had thought of visiting – or so it seemed). There were some interesting meetings which got a bit heated – a visit by the Indonesian ambassador who got a hard time over human rights issues, and Peter Griffiths who had just won an election in Smethwick on the back of an overtly racist campaign (deserved all the verbal abuse that was thrown at him). We also had visits from the party leaders – Alec Douglas Home and Harold Wilson – who were received fairly respectfully. The new premises were only occupied during my last year and I preferred being in the Waring and Gillow building in the town (I don’t like campus living). It was also very handy for the pub. You can’t underestimate the part played in early Lancaster life by the Shakespeare in St Leonardgate. It was between bits of the university and was a rather run-down place when Lancaster opened (now it’s a B&B?). By the time I left the landlord had sent his children to public school and sort of retired. George the landlord was very helpful – let me help myself if he was busy, lending me money for bus fare and getting his wife to make me a sandwich when I was short of cash. I seem to remember the French department once holding a tutorial in there (though I’m sure David Steel will deny it if he is still around). Having lectured in the Grand Theatre (Dukes?) was rather wacky.
Other memories for me concern the first Rag, where I was responsible for the procession: it went OK, but I had not thought ahead to what was to be done with the floats when it was all over – my first lesson in crisis management. We also had a student who managed to walk on to a live BBC TV show (though I can’t remember which – a Parkinson equivalent?). There were also a few – for me – notable individuals, but reminiscing about them will lead me into boring territory for you. You can possibly find a picture of one – Paul Bucci, first Bowland JCR President – on the web site following a state visit we made last summer. I suppose the only name that might mean something is Matthew Fort, current food editor of the Guardian. He always seemed rather exotic – a Brazilian girlfriend who smoked a pipe, a new car, invites to breakfast eaten off large Italian crockery, and the only person in history to have been to both Eton and Rodean (his mother was headmistress there and he worked doing odd jobs and studying in his spare time after he flunked his A-levels at Eton I think).
John Taylor graduated from Lancaster in 1967 with a degree in English and Philosophy and was a member of Grizedale college.
I went up to Lancaster in the autumn of 1964 as one of the first undergraduate cohorts. I come from a working-class Lancashire family but could do both that accent and English public school, which puzzled quite a few folk. Most of the teaching part of the university was housed in the stone-built Victorian former Waring and Gillows factory in St. Leonard Gate. Union facilities were in the ex-Congregational church and lectures took place in the historic Grand Theatre across the road, where I played Cornwall to the Lear of Peter Gale who later acted the role of Osric in Nicholl Williams’s film of Hamlet. I can truthfully tell those of my students who understand theatrical history that I have acted on a stage which was once graced by Sarah Siddons.
The university was anxious to establish an ethos.
One lecturer quipped: “This place is like an American university: It is a tradition of this College that Undergraduates will wear gowns. This tradition will operate from 9.00 am Monday next”. The gowns were grey with red yokes. They made useful, dusters and draught excluders and were particularly good for encouraging the airflow in sluggish fireplaces.
On my first day in Lancaster, I found myself drinking Mitchells’ bitter in a convivial group in the Blue Anchor. A young man called Michael Caddock hoisted himself up onto a table and toasted “Cheshire County Council, who made all this possible”. Mike, still a dear friend, enjoyed my retelling the story when I had the privilege of proposing the toast “To the University” at the Silver Jubilee dinner of its foundation in 1989. In the summer of 2000 (I think) I visited the Blue Anchor again in the company of my sons and drank a couple of pints from the very last barrel of Mitchell’s sold there after the closure of the brewery.
Other places we frequented included the Shakespeare and the Tramway in St Leonard Gate, the Carpenters’ Arms and the Red Well (way out in Lonsdale). In addition to debating and socialising, I wasted a great deal of time fiddling with various stylish but geriatric cars which included a 1936 Riley Merlin and a 1948 Triumph Roadster (the car used by John Nettles in the Bergerac series). On one occasion I bought a derelict MG TA sports car in Southport and towed it home to Lancaster behind the Riley. My mate Graham Nunn, who had a truly enormous beard, steered the MG. The brakes were almost non-existent and when I stopped suddenly at the traffic lights at the bottom of Fulwood Hill in Preston, I looked in the mirror to see, with horror, the MG overtaking me. It ended up facing me across the junction at the full extent of its tow-rope. I approached with trepidation and peered under the hood: Two enormous eyes glared at me over a mass of beard. Graham’s strangled tenor quavered: “It’s bloody hairy in here, you know!”
The Debating Union in those days was called ‘The 64 Society’. Peter Catchpole, a serious chap, was its first President. I was his successor and arrogantly referred to myself as ‘The Emperor’, which went down badly with the seriously democratic folk. My Committee included Chris Skrebowski, a flamboyant Polish aristocrat and second-generation immigrant, who was even more impossibly overbearing than I. I survived a vote of no confidence and got into the national tabloids. Ken Todd (a grad student from Oldham who complimented my dinner jacket by debating in his best black T-shirt and black cords) and I won the Northern Universities’ Debating League. We bombed, though, in a (serious) Observer Mace heat at Durham. We were drawn to speak last of 8 by which time everything had been said. Ken went into his standard (and utterly politically incorrect) emergency speech:
“This whole issue hinges on a pivotal theory of history. There are only two types of women; the complaisant nubile women and the frigid women. During the English Civil war, the Cavaliers were married to the complaisant nubile women, whereas the Roundheads………..well, has anyone ever heard of a laughing Roundhead?
Thames TV televised one of the 64 Society debates. It was self-conscious and truly awful. I was also part of the first Lancaster University Challenge team. We met the 16-year-old Lulu at Granada studios.
One of my memories of chairing a stormy debate:
ME: Order! Order! Order!
DRUNKEN VOICE FROM THE GALLERY: Pint of bitter!
We moved to the Bailrigg campus in time for my third year. Things were suddenly more formal. We were expected to pay for a car-park permit (I never did). The library was suddenly more punctilious. However, when I made out a cheque to ‘The Bandit in settlement of library fines, I received a printed receipt with ‘The Librarian’ deleted and ‘The Bandit’ inserted.
The following staff remain in the memory:
Tony Abramson graduated from Lancaster in 1967and was a member of Lonsdale College.
Bailrigg, when it came into existence, was an active campus in the late ‘60s. Maybe the students were chosen more for what they might contribute than for their academic credentials!
Or perhaps we were just a hardy bunch prepared to tough it out in freezing Morecambe boarding houses for a year or two whilst the campus was under construction.
Naturally, there were many notable events; some of minor significance to the evolution of the University but mostly just pranks. The local and national press gave oxygen to student ‘unrest’ and general naughtiness to illustrate the relaxed atmosphere then prevalent. In truth, drug availability and usage were non-existent compared to what it is today. We often took advantage of this (oxygen, not drugs) and managed to get quite bizarre stories into the press – the Bare strip club, a witches’ coven in Fylde and the Morecambe International Airport were all stunts perpetrated by a wit named Dave Thompson (also from Leeds), last heard of somewhere in Lambeth Borough Council!
Amongst other activities, I was involved with the Student Representative Council (the structure was then a Federation of Colleges) from my first term to my last, in various financial roles. Obviously, quite a lot happened in this time but randomly taking three events that have stuck in the memory:
the removal of the top cross from the Chaplaincy Centre (not a prank!) and the battle for supremacy between the SRC and the individual colleges (ie over who got the £12 per student).
Of course, there was little academic merit to distract us from enjoying ourselves!
I believe the first is mentioned in a book on the University by Marion McClintock, Quest for Innovation, 1964-74. I initiated a request to remove one of the crosses from the trinity of spires over the newly built Chaplaincy Centre, namely the cross over the interdenominational section on the grounds that this was inappropriate. Unfortunately, the cross in question was the highest and thus, represented Christ.
At the time I was Deputy Chair of the Centre Management Committee. I made this request with some reluctance, as it was a sensitive issue and I would be exposed to criticism all round (for instance, not all contributions to the building costs had yet been paid). In the event, as a result of an article in one of the national broadsheets (The Times or Telegraph, I think), the Bishop of Blackburn called me a ‘vociferous minority’ and the Jewish Gazette, ‘a fascist of the left’.
A couple of months went by before I heard a rumour that something was about to happen. I went up to see Ruth Henig, whose then-husband Stan was the local MP. Ruth’s office overlooked the Centre and as we were talking, to our amazement, a huge crane came along and removed the top crosspiece! I didn’t take much pleasure in this but my discomfort was alleviated shortly afterwards when the three spires were adopted as the very effective University logo.
The second issue was subject to a special edition of John O’Gauntlet, the weekly student newspaper, and will be in the archives. After a hotly contested debate, the central administration managed to hold off the emergent colleges but I believe the centre was defeated in subsequent years and was superseded. This isn’t a humorous story but was certainly significant in terms of the organisation and funding of the student body at that time.